Feb 022010


Boasts a shell structure unlike anything else seen in nature

They say life imitates art, but any scientist knows that the best designs imitate life. Researchers from the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN) are drawing new biomimicry inspiration for body armor design from a hardy ocean snail that boasts a shell structure unlike anything else seen in nature… or in material research labs.

Introducing Trochus niloticus

Discovered in 2003 around the hostile hydrothermal vents of the Indian Ocean, and drawing immediate interest from Professor Christine Ortez of MIT’s Laboratory, this particular hot vent gastropod, the Trochus niloticus or more quirkily-named “scaly-foot” snail has been found to demonstrate a structural shell unlike any other naturally-occurring or synthesized armor. It is formed from three layers comprising an outer layer fortified with iron sulfide granules, a thick organic middle layer, and a calcified inner layer. Conversely, most other snail shells have a calcified layer with a thin organic coating on the outside.

How they discovered it…

In the new paper, partly funded by the Army and the Department of Defense, Ortiz and her colleagues measured the mechanical properties of the shell by subjecting it at a nanoscale to pressure applied with a diamond-tipped machine called an “indenter”. The results suggest that the unusual organic middle layer absorbs a lot of energy allowing the shell to dissipate mechanical energy, and also heat and thermal fluctuations that would fracture weaker shells.

Read more .  . .

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